Marathons and Your Heart

No one ever said that marathons were easy. That’s just not part of the equation and you likely approach your races expecting a significant challenge,  even if you’re a more experienced runner. Many have concerns, though, that marathons may be more than just difficult; Research has brought put that it might even be dangerous. What are the potential concerns associated with marathons and how can you protect yourself?


A Look at the Science

A brief review of the research may paint a pretty grim picture of your post-race cardiovascular health, especially if you peruse the headlines that feature variations on the phrase “Marathons Could Kill You!” The happy truth, however, is that this doesn’t represent the whole picture.

While it is true that marathons,  obviously,  put an immense amount of stress on your heart, it is also true that only about one runner in every 184,000 suffers cardiac arrest during or after the race. And most of these runners have had a preexisting heart condition that was either undiagnosed or ignored.

So, then, it seems plain that the average person,  with a clean cardiac bill of health,  has nothing to worry about when tackling 26.2 miles. The reality, though,  is slightly more complicated.

A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology discovered that several negative changes take place in a runner’s heart immediately following a marathon. Specifically,  there was an observable decrease in ventricular function on both sides of the subjets’ hearts. Significant damage was also seen in the cardiac tissue.

This might all sound scary at first, but the stuy also contained one key point: These negative outcomes were only noticed in runners with less training and preparation. Basically,  the stuy supported the very logical conclusion that the lower your fitness level, the higher your risk of heart damage.

It’s also important to note that this damage was only temporary. Again, though,  fitness level played a key role in recovery. The researchers theorized that a better trained heart is more adept at recovery from the damage and does so more quickly.


Proceed With Caution

Clearly, then, there’s a need for caution when preparing and training for a marathon. Your first step should be to see a doctor.  Not only will it be important to judge your own risk for heart disease, based on blood pressure,  cholesterol and other factors,  but your doctor will also want to consider your family’s history. If you have family members with heart disease, your risks arw significantly higher.

Then, of course, you’ll want to begin a careful training program. Your workouts should be gradual,  allowing your body ample time to adapt.




When Running Injuries Happen

I haven’t been too lucky in the injury department when it comes to exercise. While I count my blessings each day for having health and strength while others fight hard to survive, I do suffer from the perils of bad accidents, painful joints and cartilage damage. I wish I could say that running is an easy form of exercise every time I head out, but that is not always the case.

Today I found myself at the doctor explaining the difficulties I face each time I try to run even a quarter of a mile. I experience trouble breathing and endure extreme dry coughing and wheezing, and feel like someone is sitting on my chest. This obviously isn’t typical for me, otherwise I’d never have run another step in my life. But it is troubling.

After examining my breathing ability and asking copious amounts of questions, the doctor diagnosed exactly what I expected: exercise-induced asthma. He prescribed me my first inhaler and then pricked and prodded me with needles for blood work–just to make sure I wasn’t also suffering from hypothyroidism. I’m crossing my fingers the results are negative.

Part of me feels sadness it hurts to run, but the other part feels grateful for a diagnosis. Maybe this is the first step to healing and I can return to running marathons once again. Right now, even a 5K feels like a tremendous amount of work to make it to the finish line (when normally I sprint the entire distance.)

Throughout my endurance sports life, I’ve been plagued with a few other instances of injuries. I fell off my bike training for an Ironman race and lost consciousness. I ended up in the hospital with 15 stitches, a sprained wrist and a lifetime of scars. It was a teaching hospital and while I appreciate the value of a hands-on education, I don’t appreciate a Doogie Howser look alike learning to stitch on my face.

In a triathlon race, a very fast man crashed into my bike from behind shooting me six feet in the air. I landed on my side with a bike strewn into pieces across the road. I then spent the next three months in physical therapy for the first time, having to relearn how to hold a door knob. This same accident hurt my knee so badly I had to reenter physical therapy a few months later and almost delayed my participation in the Antarctica Marathon–something I waited years to complete.

But the most challenging injury of all is my plantar fasciitis. If I wear the wrong pair of shoes just for a few hours, I can’t walk for days. I’ve had my feet turn blue, feel like they’re on fire and seen many orthopedic surgeons over it.

Yet, I fill that inhaler prescription because I need to go for a run!

Cold Remedies: What Works and What Doesn’t

There’s a good reason for calling it the “common cold” since this particular virus infects over one billion people per year in the U.S alone. Even though it’s considered a minor illness and some people never even notice that they’re sick, the symptoms of a cold could be enough to take you out of your regular fitness routine.

Considering the prevalence of the cold, it’s no wonder that so many home remedies have been devised and promoted over the years. In the interest of getting you out of bed and keeping you active through yet another cold season, it’s worth considering a few of the more popular cold remedies.

Chicken Soup

Countless gallons of chicken soup have been served to sick children by generations of mothers who, apparently, really knew what they were doing. Recent research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that chicken soup can help to ease symptoms of the cold of several levels.

First, the ingredients of the classic chicken soup seem to inhibit the action of neutrophils, a specific type of white blood cell used to fight off viral infections. Controlling these neutrophils will limit both mucous production and coughs associated with the common cold.

The various vitamins and minerals found in chicken soup may also have an immune boosting effect to help your body fight the virus.

Of course there is also the emotional and physical calm that you can expect from enjoying a warm bowl of soup. Closely tied to that is the relaxing effect of inhaling the steam to stop inflammation in your airways.

Vitamin C

Since the 1970s, alternative medicine advocates have been promoting the benefits of vitamin C as a cure-all. This all started with the claim that the vitamin could prevent and cure the common cold.

The vitamin, and the mega-doses often offered in over-the-counter cold medications, is still very controversial. Research is inconclusive but, according to the Mayo Clinic, vitamin C supplementation may be worth a try.

While most otherwise healthy people probably won’t get any benefits from taking the vitamin, those who are constantly exposed to the virus like school aged children, may be able to hold off the cold.

It’s also possible that taking vitamin C once you get the flu could shorten the duration of your symptoms but this is another cause for contention among researchers. Since symptom duration and severity is controlled by many individual factors, it’s very difficult to judge whether or not the virus has a shorter life span than it would have had without supplementation.


Zinc has also had a controversial background in the cold-remedy arena. There have been many studies with conflicting results, most of which are considered “low-quality.” The studies that are judged “high-quality” by the experts at the Mayo Clinic all found that zinc had no benefit in the treatment of the cold.

Unlike vitamin C, however, zinc has potentially serious side effects that make it unwise to even try nasal sprays containing the mineral. Zinc can cause strange tastes, nausea and even a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell, called anosmia.

Overall, the best course of treatment for a cold is still rest and plenty of water. Always consult a doctor before beginning any supplementation, especially if you’re currently taking medication.

Have you experienced the benefits of any home cold remedies? Please share your experience in the comments!






Preventing and Treating Shin Splints

Shin splints, medically known as tibial stress syndrome, are a frustratingly common hazard for many athletes. In fact, athletes and regular exercisers aren’t the only people who are sometimes afflicted with this dull, throbbing lower-leg pain; you may have suffered with this even after just running to catch a bus. Since shin splints are so common, making up 13 percent of injuries in runners, it only makes sense to prepare yourself by understanding what they are, how to prevent them and what you can do to speed up recovery if you do find yourself with tibial stress syndrome.

Symptoms & Causes

Is that pain in your calves shin splints or something potentially more serious? Typically, shin splints are identified by a dull, throbbing pain in the front of the lower leg which can surface during or after exercise. This pain can manifest itself either along the edges of your shinbone or deeper in the muscle. The area may even be sensitive to the touch. In some cases, the pain is constant. As with any persistent pain, you should consult a doctor to determine the exact cause.

Shin splints aren’t really a medical condition, but are themselves a symptom of another problem. Overuse, working your legs too hard, is one of the more common causes of shin splints and is fairly easy to correct. Training your lower legs too hard or too often can lead to swollen and irritated muscles which will create the annoying pain we call shin splints.

Flat feet and the resulting incorrect stride called overpronation is also a common cause of tibial stress syndrome. In these cases, the impact of your step flattens out the natural arch that your feet are supposed to have. This places an unexpected and abnormal type of stress of the muscles and tendons in your lower legs. Many people have flat feet and don’t realize it since the problem only become evident on hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.

It’s also possible that your body is using shin splints to warn you that you’ve suffered stress fractures without knowing it. These tiny, hair-line cracks in your bones can occur totally unbeknownst to you and require medical attention. Again, if your shin splints persist and the pain doesn’t go away after self-treatment, see a doctor to be sure you don’t have any breaks.


It’s often been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and shin splints are no different. This condition, even if the pain is minor, can slow you down and keep you from running for weeks. Fortunately, prevention is fairly simple.

Select running shoes that provide good padding and support a healthy stride. It is possible to have too much padding, though, which will encourage bad habits like heel-striking. Make sure that you’re landing on the middle of your foot and rolling forward onto the balls of your feet for push-off. If you do have flat feet, consider investing in some arch support inserts. Avoid running on inflexible, hard surfaces since these can wreak havoc on your arches.

Take your time getting started and use a long warm-up, lasting between 5 and 10 minutes. Don’t forget to stretch, either, focusing on your calves and ankles.

Finally, don’t push it. If you start to feel pain during your workout, stop running. Pushing through the pain will just cause more injury and possible make things worse in the long run.


The best possible thing for shin splints, regardless of the underlying cause, is one that runners and, indeed, all athletes dread: Rest.

While you’re giving your body time to repair the damage, though, there are things you can do to quicken the process. Primarily, try to reduce the inflammation by icing the shin for 20 minutes every 3 hours until the pain goes away. Anti-inflammatory painkillers like aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen can help but these medications come with side effects and should only been taken regularly if direct by your doctor.

Arch supports may provide a quick-fix to the problem, but start out gradually and don’t get over confident if the pain goes away immediately. Work your back up to your standard training intensity.

For more serious cases, your doctor may recommend physical therapy and various exercises.

Just because you’re being forced to rest your shins doesn’t mean you have to be totally inactive, though. Low-impact cardio exercises like cycling, swimming or elliptical training can keep you moving while limiting the stress on your lower legs.




Preventing Injuries During Endurance Training

The days are getting shorter and cooler, leaves are beginning to change – all of these thing signaling the start of fall. More importantly, fall means the start of another season of races. Whether you are just getting started with endurance events like 5k’s or have worked your way up to marathons or even beyond, an injury now can be incredibly trying emotionally if it means you have to skip out on your goals. So, how can you avoid injuries during your preparation for your events.


1 – Balance Your Training

One of the most common fitness mistakes, made by many beginners regardless of their chosen activity, is following an unbalanced workout routine. According to the International Association of Athletics Federation, a proper conditioning program must include strength, flexibility and balance in addition to your endurance training. Many endurance athletes will focus their attention zealously on cardio and neglect these other aspects, sometimes based on gym myths. For instance, it’s been passed around gyms for years that strength training and endurance training counteract each other but modern science has largely disproved this.

Think about it this way: The quadriceps and hamstrings wrap around the knee to enable movement and stability. The stronger these muscles are, the more efficient and safe movement in the knee will be. Balance and endurance training can benefit these joints in the same way.

Since many injuries suffered by endurance athletes affect the muscles themselves, rather than the joints, flexibility is an important step toward preventing this type of injury. Also key is appropriate rest.


2- Know When and How to Rest and Recover

Rest is a surprisingly important aspect of a fitness routine. With endurance training, and other exercise modes, many people feel as though if some running is good for you more running is better but this just isn’t the case.

The most basic form of rest is, of course, sleep. Make sure you get enough sleep, at least 8 hours a night for active adults, because it’s during sleep that your body adapts to the stresses you put on it during the day. Adaptation includes building and repairing muscles, strengthening the heart and lungs and shoring up nerves associated with muscle contraction. The affect that proper sleep has on your mental awareness and energy as shouldn’t be ignored. When you feel good, physically and mentally, you’re going to be more willing to exercise.

Recovery can be a more complex idea that can take many forms. One of the most useful methods is active recovery, which involves a much easier workout for that you’re taking it easy without being totally sedentary. Active recovery can take the form of course training, using a different exercise mode, or just working out at a lower intensity. These training days should follow a high-intensity day, and active recovery weeks should be included about every third or fourth week.


3- Warm Up and Cool Down

The warm up and cool down are often overlooked aspects of a workout. They might get skipped to save time, because the exerciser doesn’t see the necessity or simply because they’ve forgotten. A warm up last about 5 to 15 minutes will help to gradually increase your heart rate and blood flow to the target muscles. This increased blood flow with not only make sure that the muscles have the nutrients they need but it will raise the temperature and therefore the flexibility of the connective tissue.

A cool down should last about the same time and can be just a lower intensity cardio activity. This will help the body to slowly return to normal function and clear away lactic acid to lower muscle soreness.

Both the warm up and the cool down can be just easier versions of the training method. For example, if you’ll be running your warm up and cool down can be a brisk walk or jog.

These are just a few of the adjustments you can make to your training to make sure that you don’t suffer an injury that could slow you down and take you out of the race.